Coronavirus found in sewerage collected months before first reported case

Health worker wearing blue smock gloves and hat as well as white mask and clear face shield leans over a patient's bed

Health worker wearing blue smock gloves and hat as well as white mask and clear face shield leans over a patient's bed

The team at the University of Barcelona, which tested wastewater since mid-April this year to detect possible new outbreaks, also planned to conduct experiments on older samples.

Italian scientists have also said they found COVID-19 genetic material present in sewage months before the virus turned northern Italy into the global COVID-19 hotspot. The study was flawed, they said, and other lines of evidence strongly suggest that the virus developed late past year in China. However, the surprising finding in March 2019 was only briefly stated at the end of the paper.

"All samples were negative regarding the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 genome except for those taken on March 12, 2019, in which the levels of SARS-CoV-2 were low but were positive, using two different targets", said Bosch.

Covid-19 was announced in Wuhan, China in early December in 2019 and reached every place worldwide later, including Europe.

Spain has been one of the countries hardest-hit by the virus, with more than 28,000 deaths, and had one of the world's strictest lockdowns as residents were kept inside apart from trips for food, medicines and essential jobs.

For the study, researchers were examining samples from two large wastewater treatment plants in Barcelona to detect the evolution of the virus in the city. The work received further coverage on Friday, June 27, when the university posted a news release.

Dr Joan Ramon Villalbi who is from the Spanish Society for Public Health and Sanitary Administration was quoted by the Reuters saying that it was early to draw conclusions.

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Dr Jonathan Stoye, head of the Retrovirus-Host Interactions Laboratory at The Francis Crick Institute, told The Telegraph that more analysis was needed before the claim could be confirmed, noting that not all of the testing results had been aligned in the March 2019 sample.

There was the potential for a false positive due to the virus' similarities with other respiratory infections.

"But it's definitely interesting, it's suggestive", Mr Villalbi said.

This situation made the waste water-based epidemiology a potential tool for an early detection of the circulation of the virus among the population, especially considering the important presence of asymptomatic people who transmit the virus, said the study.

Instead, patients were probably misdiagnosed with common flu, contributing to community transmission before measures were taken.

The group assumed that some early cases of Covid-19 might have been seen erroneously as a severe flu. In particular, SARS-CoV-2 was observed in the sewage samples collected in Barcelona, city in Spain, according to Euroweeklynews.

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